Cultivated mushrooms, the familiar white mushroom, available in every
supermarket, has a less pronounced taste than some of the more exotic
mushrooms. They are good in a crowd, able to mingle congenially without
overwhelming other ingredients by their presence. These are grown in
trays of compost which must be changed with every new crop.
Chanterelles are the orange mushrooms usually sold sliced in our markets. When seen
whole, they are a thing of beauty with their apricot tinge, fruity aroma,
fluted edges, and fine ribbing of gills. They are delicious with eggs,
in a rice pilaf, or as a stuffing for Cornish hen. Even better, sauté
them and eat on a piece of toast. They will toughen if overcooked.
Crimini mushrooms are from the same family as the cultivated, but are tan. They
are a little firmer to the touch, and a little denser, and earthier
to the taste buds. Portobello or portabella mushrooms are
just overgrown criminis. Because they have opened, they lose moisture
naturally and are a little meatier than other mushrooms which makes
them good for grilling.They have a dramatic flair on the table.
Morels are distinguished by their conical sponge-like caps though they range
in color from pale gold to almost black. Since they retain sand or earth,
they are usually sliced to make cleaning easier. They have a smoky,
earthy flavor, and are best in omelets, with fish or chicken.
Oyster Mushrooms grow on the decay of the forest.
Ranging in color from white to brown, all varieties are shaped like
an oyster shell. They can be grilled or broiled, fried, baked like all
mushrooms in a cream sauce.
or cèpes, are familiar
dried mushrooms, sold in tiny packets in Italian specialty shops. Porcini
in Italian means little piglets, a name given because of their fat stems.
They are found under conifers or deciduous trees. Their taste is strong
when dried and they may be used sparingly. When eaten fresh they are
fleshy and delicious when grilled. Their gills are very wide, almost
tube-like and they should be carefully cleaned.
Shiitake mushrooms are considered
Japanese, but are Chinese in origin, and are the mushrooms found dried
in Chinese markets where the price is far less stratospheric than in
specialty shops. They need to soak for about 20 minutes to half an hour.
The stems are discarded. Unlike the cultivated mushroom, the shiitake
is grown on logs.
Truffles are the most famous, most romanticized mushroom in the world, but they
are only found in the Piedmont section of Italy and in the Périgord
in France. They are best when thinly shaved over simple foods, so their
incomparable taste and perfume are emphasized.
Wood-ear mushrooms are imported dried from
China. They are slightly chewier than other mushrooms and require half
an hour soaking before use. The Chinese who value a combination of textures
in their dishes, make great use of this mushroom. They are also called
cloud ear, silver ear, or tree ear.